A recent view of the Gallery Place Metro stop. ( Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Metro will open two hours early Saturday and add extra trains to accommodate the thousands of people expected to attend the Women’s March on Washington, an event that could draw larger crowds than Inauguration Day and present travel challenges for participants and residents.

The rail system will open at 5 a.m. and will add up to two dozen trains for the event, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld said Wednesday, announcing a change from the transit agency’s original plan to run regular weekend service.

Public transit users should still expect long waits at Metro stations and crowding on platforms and trains. Drivers will encounter day-long — and rolling — road closures near the Mall, which could also affect bus service.

Metro’s original plan to run regular weekend service had drawn criticism from riders and march participants who urged the transit agency to reconsider boosting the transit options on the day after the 58th presidential inauguration. More than 100,000 people are expected at the demonstration to “promote women’s equality and defend other marginalized groups.”

The cost of the extra service will be absorbed by Metro, spokesman Dan Stessel said, noting that the agency generally foots the bill when it enhances service for similar events such as sporting events and the papal visit in 2015. He said the agency will also cover the cost for Inauguration Day service when Metro is opening at 4 a.m. and running rush-hour service for 17 hours.

March organizers called Metro’s decision to extend service “great news!” on Twitter, while the group’s Maryland chapter tweeted: “Happy Dance!! Thank you @WMATA!”

“This is another example of how vital Metro is for the region and of our unique role in transporting people from across the country to national events in our capital city,” Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans said. The change in course, he said, came after “Metro heard from lots of customers about the need for additional service.”

“When somebody says we will have a half a million people at the march, that is not anything special for us,” Evans said, noting that the agency transports hundreds of thousands of people daily. “We can handle big crowds. We will be able to handle whatever the size of the crowd is, assuming the trains don’t break down or something crazy like that.”

But he says the area jurisdictions who that contribute to Metro’s operating budget should take notice.

“All this costs money, and nobody is reimbursing us for it,” he said. “We are providing services above and beyond what we are even budgeting for.”

The additional trains Saturday will be deployed on the Red and Orange lines, which expect high ridership to the march, Metro said. Trains will also be added between Franconia-Springfield and Greenbelt stations, running on the “Rush Plus” route via the Yellow Line Bridge from 6 to 10 a.m. and 1 to 5 p.m.

Metro will also make 100 parking spots available for charter buses at Greenbelt and Landover stations. And riders will be spared from any track work and station closings, as none are scheduled for Saturday.

Some Women’s March participants had voiced concerns about Metro’s original plan to keep regular Saturday service — when the system opens at 7 a.m. They pointed at indicators that the crowds could be larger than on Inauguration Day.

For example, organizers had applied for permits for at least 1,200 charter buses to park at RFK Stadium on Saturday, while just 200 had been sought for Inauguration Day.
The agency has about 60,000 parking spaces in 29 lots and 22 garages throughout the region available for use Friday and Saturday. Parking is free on weekends.

The stage for the Women’s March will be on Third Street SW and Independence Avenue SW by the National Museum of the American Indian.

The group will begin to walk from the gathering location around 1 p.m. and march west on Independence Avenue SW, from Third Street SW, to 14th Street SW; then will turn north on 14th Street SW to Constitution Avenue NW; and will march west on Constitution Avenue NW to 17th Street NW, near the Ellipse and Washington Monument, where the events will come to an end.

The closest Metro stations to the event stage are Federal Center SW on the Blue and Orange lines and L’Enfant Plaza on the Blue, Orange, Yellow and Green lines. Red Line riders can use the Judiciary Square and Union Station exits and walk to the Mall area.

Visitors should also expect tight security in the Metro system and elsewhere, including bag checks to enter the event. Participants should leave large backpacks and other prohibited items, such as weapons and drones, at home.

Metro is banning bicycles and large coolers on Friday and Saturday.

Riders are encouraged to purchase SmarTrip cards in advance to avoid the crush at fare machines. Riders age 5 or older need their own card to enter the system. Metro officials also recommend planning the trip to avoid transferring. There is a station near the Mall on each line.

Metrobus is running regular Saturday service. Some routes that stop near the Mall include the 30S, 30N and 36. For a full list, consult Metro’s Trip Planner (www.wmata.com/schedules/trip-planner). The regular Metrobus fare is $1.75 using a SmarTrip card or cash.

“We will be ready. I hope this is Metro’s finest hour,” Evans said. “I hope Metro is able to rise to the occasion and provide great service for everybody.”